Cluny Trompe l'œil

The restoration of treasures of the past

Jean-Denis Salvèque

Issues and stakes

"Cluny is a Roman and Gothic city that had its heyday during the height of the Benedictine Abbey, founded ​​between the late 11th and late 12th century, and frozen in time until the early 18th century. This Roman capital was drastically modernised in the 18th century and rebuilt in a modern style. However, the most beautiful parts of the buildings were preserved in what is now the museum. The project consisted in identifying what were the most visually stunning parts of these archives and to restore the architectural details on the original façades. It was entrusted to an Architect of French Buildings to make sure that our heritage would be kept well intact. Two buildings were renovated and decorated with the details of the ancient demolished buildings. The main objective was to bring the museum’s visitors into the town and to evoke past times there, as well as to bring visitors to the city into the museum. It was a real “back and forth” challenge between the city and its museum.


In the renovation, it was decided to make "trompe l’oeil" in order to suggest the sculpted Roman windows. Trompe-l'œil (French for "deceive the eye") is an art technique dating back to the baroque time and even back to Greek and Roman times. The technique uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects exist in three dimensions. A typical trompe-l'œil mural might depict a window, door, or hallway, intended to suggest a larger room. The architect decided to use a mix with a texture that is close to that of paint as it was very similar to what is used on the façades. The technique used for the trompe l’oeil was “a fresco”, applying wet lime paint and pigments in a wet render. He used lime paint in a colour close to the one of the renovated walls: a mix of hydrated lime and pigments with a lot of water to dilute it and make it as easy to use as paint. The mix allowed very thin layers of lime to be applied to the existing painted walls to avoid micro-cracks. The painting was carried out by two experts: Elisabeth de Mourgues and Ludovic Térracol.